President Obama recently nominated Robert E. O’Neill to serve as U.S. attorney for Florida’s Middle District, one of the country’s busiest regions. The nomination will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming months and will need to be approved by a vote of the full Senate. However, there are questions regarding his nomination based on O’Neill’s alleged involvement with whistleblower retaliation.
Between 1999 and 2003, O’Neill was former federal prosecutor Jeffrey J. Del Fuoco’s supervisor. Del Fuoco was in charge of investigating a corrupt Manatee County, Florida sheriff, Charles B. “Charlie” Wells, and an elite group of his deputies known as the Delta Squad. Then Assistant U.S. Attorney O’Neill gave Del Fuoco a glowing review, stating he “was able to demonstrate the legitimacy of the investigation and the fact that the corruption was rampant.”
The street crime-fighting record of Sheriff Wells was praised, but there were a number of allegations over the years that he mixed public and private business. Sheriff Wells was an advisor to Florida governor Jeb Bush. When George W. Bush appointed a new U.S. attorney, Paul I. Perez, Wells met with Perez to express his “opinion that Mr. Del Fuoco needed to be closely supervised.” According to the St. Petersburg Times “given the history of investigation into the Sheriff’s Office, Perez’s visit put him in a position where it could have appeared he was being influenced by Wells, an expert on legal ethics says.”
In 2002, Del Fuoco was still working on the sheriff’s case, but was spending most of his time investigating corrupt police officers in another city. So, when he discovered a black vehicle watching his home he assumed that it was as a result of that case. However, it was quickly discovered that a Manatee sheriff’s employee had run Del Fuoco’s tag numbers through the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) computer in order to get his home address and other personal information. Del Fuoco, concerned for his family, repeated asked Perez for protection, but received nothing for those efforts.
Out of frustration that the DOJ had done nothing to protect his family, Del Fuoco filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff and some of his employees for illegally accessing law enforcement data to retaliate against him for prosecuting Delta Squad members. The lawsuit “ helped poison Del Fuoco’s relations with supervisors, who felt he had acted rashly.” Del Fuoco’s lawsuit also helped spur more allegations involving the Manatee Sheriff’s Office to be reported to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, in May 2003, Del Fuoco was transferred from the criminal to civil division, all contemporaneous with filing a lawful complaint of whistleblower retaliation with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Del Fuoco considered his demotion to be in retaliation for filing the lawsuit against the politically connected sheriff. In fact, shortly after Del Fuoco was removed from the investigation into Sheriff Wells the investigation of Wells was dropped and the investigators were told that since Wells “swings a big bat,” there “would be no further investigations targeting him.” Del Fuoco resigned his position at the DOJ in August 2005.
Please click here to read a letter dated April 26, 2004 from Attorney Stephen M. Kohn to former Attorney General John Ashcroft detailing the improper and illegal harassment suffered by Mr. Del Fuoco and his family.
The National Whistleblowers Center hopes that the Senate Judiciary Committee conducts a full investigation into whether or not nominee Robert E. O’Neill retaliated against whistleblower Jeffery J. Del Fuoco for having the guts to stand up to a corrupt, politically connected sheriff. If the committee concludes that O’Neill illegally retaliated against a whistleblower, then they should not approve of his nomination.